In the first few months of lockdown, social media and news were dominated by stories of people reaching out to their neighbors in need, but when you turn on the news now, all you see is nearly burnt-out, quarrelling politicians, and people frustrated by said quarrelling politicians. How does the entrepreneurial enthusiasm of the first wave fare now Covid-weariness has set in?
The novelty of the Covid situation and the sudden surplus of time on hand in the spring of 2020 brought out the best in all of us, as citizen initiatives popped up like mushrooms all over the country. Now, almost one year into the pandemic, this sense of solidarity seems to have been completely replaced by polarization and chagrin. Charity platforms concur however that this shift is rather due to a change in popular perception than to a deterioration of our mentality.
“When the lockdown was announced in March, we had 11 times more volunteers than normal, so that was huge”, says Anne van Roosmalen, from NL Voor Elkaar, the biggest volunteer platform in the Netherlands. “Now the numbers have indeed dropped somewhat, but registrations are still three times higher than normal.”
“We therefore mainly see changes in how people contribute, since the possibilities have become more limited”, Van Roosmalen adds. “We see a lot of amazing one-time initiatives to give someone a boost, but a lot of convenient weekly activities like taking a walk are not possible now.”
Hendrik-Jan Overmeer from Coronahelpers, an organization that intermediates between municipalities and businesses, and volunteers and charity organizations, also doesn’t believe that solidarity is disappearing: “we have seven million volunteers in The Netherlands and everybody is still very much supporting each other. We are fed up with Corona but that doesn’t take anything away from our awareness that we have a responsibility to help.”
Both van Roosmalen and Overmeer are bothered by the image of polarization that has been created in the media. Van Roosmalen: “Every day I see thousands of people who are there for each other and who want to help. I think that is much more characteristic of Dutch society than this small group of rioters.”
On a smaller scale, however, Martijn Canters from Oma’s Soup does notice some waning enthusiasm. His organization normally organizes cooking days for lonely elders, but since Corona has made that impossible, they now deliver soup packages to elderly people’s homes. “Normally it’s all about the human contact, but now that this is gone, people feel more like a delivery man than volunteer doing good work. After a few times they think: ‘I’ve done my share, my job is done here.’”